SPORTS

Benoit Huot moves training to Toronto pool to peak for Parapan Ams

01/19/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 03/21/2015 05:59 EDT
The slogan of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games is "Are You Ready?"

Benoit Huot is prepared to answer that question by making host city Toronto his second home.

One of the decorated Paralympians in Canadian history, Huot trains at the new Aquatics Centre nearly every day and often has two pool sessions in a day.

The Montreal swimmer owns 19 medals, including nine gold, from four Paralympic Summer Games. Retired wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc is the only Canadian who has won more with 21.

Huot shares an apartment with other swimmers near the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House in the suburb of Scarborough. He takes the train home on weekends to Montreal, where the 30-year-old owns a house with fiancee Annie Couture.

"You want to think you did everything you could to be ready when it's really game-day," Huot told The Canadian Press. "That's what I'm trying to do."

Huot pondered retirement after collecting a medal of every colour and setting a world record in the 200-metre individual medley at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

But the draw of racing in a Parapan Am Games in his home country in 2015 was a pull towards the Rio de Janiero Paralympics in 2016.

Competing in the 2013 International Paralympic Committee world swimming championships in his hometown of Montreal was another incentive to stay in the pool after London.

Training in Toronto fills a number of needs for Huot, not the least of which is gaining an advantage for the Parapan Ams from Aug. 7-15.

"It'll feel even more like home when the Pan Ams come around," Huot said. "It does make a difference knowing where things are.

"That excitement when you get to the facility for the first time and sometimes feeling that extra stress you don't need, I won't get that. I know where the ready room will be, I know where the doping will be.

"It's the same thing in the water," he continued. "The way I do my turns when I swim backstroke, I look at the ceiling of the pool and all my references are there. I know how to feel good in that pool from lane one to lane 10. Whatever lane I'm going to be in . . . I'll feel confident. Those small things for us as swimmers make a big difference."

The opening of Pan Am swim venue in October also solved a problem in Huot's training environment in Montreal. The ongoing renovations on his home pool at the Olympic Park Sports Centre will continue well into 2015.

Huot felt he could no longer afford the disruption in his training with Rio coming over the horizon.

"I said 'I can't wait for this.' I need to take responsibility in making sure I'm ready for 2015 and obviously 2016 and the best place right now in the country would be Toronto," he explained.

"To be ready for 2016, I can't start in September 2015. What I'm doing now is going to pay off in 2016 as well."

Huot was born with a club foot and competes in the S10 classification for athletes with minor physical impairments.

He's training in Toronto with a group of able-bodied athletes including Toronto's Martha McCabe, a world championship medallist in breaststroke. They're coached by Ben Titley, who is Swimming Canada's national-team coach.

But Huot maintains his relationship with Montreal coach Pierre Lamy because Lamy will be coach Huot when he races the 200 I.M. and 100-metre backstroke in Toronto this summer.

Huot hasn't raced the 400-metre freestyle since winning Paralympic silver in 2012, but he may add it to his Parapan Am set list.

He collected seven medals, including three gold, at the 2007 Parapan Ams in Rio. Huot didn't compete in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011 because those Games held in November of that year conflicted with his training for the 2012 Paralympics.

Paralympic, Parapan Am and Commonwealth Games medals were among the eight stolen from Huot's house last year while he was away training in Richmond, B.C.

He says he's unlikely to ever recover them as Longueuil police have closed the investigation. Huot is more hopeful about obtaining replacement medals.

"We're talking to the International Paralympic Committee and Commonwealth Games Federation to try to replace the medals," Huot said. "So far things are looking good. We haven't got confirmation yet."

For a man who has trained his entire career in Montreal, relocating to Toronto was an adjustment. Via Rail helps out with rail passes to go home for short stints, but his relationship with his fiancee is now mostly long-distance.

"It's not easy being away, especially for her," Huot said. "For me, I'm living my dream. I'm having a great time in the water. I know I'm towards the end of my career. I've had a great adventure so far.

"I want to take this opportunity for the next 18, 19 months and feel like it's the last time I am doing this."

Huot is mindful of his legacy in sport at this point in his career. He completed a degree in communications at University of Quebec-Montreal last year and worked with CBC on their coverage of the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

He says the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., and the 2013 IPC world swim championship in Montreal raised the profile of Paralympic sport, but the impact was limited to those regions of the country.

He sees the Greater Toronto Area as another frontier for Paralympic sport.

"The Pan Am Games will hopefully have good coverage and will be able to give Canadians a better idea of what we are doing, which is kind of a goal, or a mandate that I have at the end of my career," Huot explained.

"Yes, I'm still an athlete, but there's not a better way to do these things than being the athlete doing it."

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